The New Normal | TV Review
After ratings success with Nip/Tuck, Glee and American Horror Story, creator Ryan Murphy has decided to take on the sitcom with The New Normal. Co-written with Glee co-executive producer Ali Adler, the shows aims at being a fresh take on the family comedy but for those familiar with Murphy's previous works, there's a lot here that feels uncomfortably familiar.
Gay couple Bryan and David (Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha) decide, on a bit of a whim, that they'd like to be parents. With the help of a family-planning agency, the California couple sets out to find a woman that will let them borrow her womb for nine months. Meanwhile, out in Ohio, when waitress Goldie (Georgia King) walks in on her boyfriend in bed with another woman, she is finally motivated to start a better life for her and her daughter Shania (Bebe Wood). While the pair don't succeed in their initial plan to drive to Hawaii, they do make it to the coast, where Goldie offers her services as a surrogate for a $35,000 paycheck. It's here that Bryan and David's path intersects with Goldie's as the three look to each other to fulfill their dreams.
While on the surface, The New Normal sounds like a heartwarming and inspirational show, Murphy does his best to ensure that won't be the case by peppering the cast with narcissistic characters that undercut any of the warm fuzzy feelings that may drift by. As Goldie's cartoonishly bigoted grandmother Jane, Ellen Barkin makes Glee's Sue Sylvester look like a cuddly teddy bear as she spends just about every second of her screen time doling out worn-out insults to any minority that wanders into frame with her. And Rannells's Bryan does nothing but help, served up as a hackneyed image of the male queer. Bryan's first parental impulse occurs while shopping at Barney's when he spots a child in a stroller and declares he must have it as if it's the hottest new thing in fall fashion. What is supposed to pass for comedy from these two characters is just crass and humiliating. As Goldie, King is the heart of the show, her intentions so pure and giving that she almost makes you forget she's surrounded by egomaniacs.
Murphy's pacing has always been awkward and rushed even in his hour-long shows. The pilot episode of American Horror Story rushed through plot points that most series would take an entire season to develop. Here, this problem continues. Rather than witness Bryan and David have a real conversation about bringing a child into their lives, they're rushed into the business of selecting egg donors and surrogates. A plot thread involving a pre-Goldie surrogate who threatens to smoke, drink and eat sushi if they don't buy her a car lasts for only a scene before the script jumps forward in time to after her departure. Likewise, Goldie's decision to become a surrogate happens off-screen, her meeting with Bryan and David being the first we hear of it. The entire pilot feels like an hour's worth of plot packed into a half-hour box.
While The New Normal could have been a refreshing comedy about an alternative family, Murphy's bad habits turn it into a cynical and uneven mess, undercutting any joy and humor that manage shine through.
The pilot episode of The New Normal airs tonight at 9pm on NBC and is available now on Hulu. The show's second episode will air tomorrow night at 8:30pm during its regular time slot.